Growing CSforCLE program adds trainings for teachers, thanks to NSF

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Final amendments to the Computer Science education legislation House Bill 170 passed the Ohio House on Wednesday, December 13.
The bill heads to Governor Kasich for his signature. We will have a more complete post on the legislation’s impact and importance soon. Sign up to have it delivered to your inbox. Today, read about a growing push for computer science education in Northeast Ohio.

CSforCLE, a computer science education initiative involving, among others, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, recently received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand its work. CSforCLE — a CSforAll project — aims, in part, to train Cleveland district high school teachers in computer science basics so that all district students can learn the discipline.

To bring us up to date on the growing project, we contacted three educators who are involved: Debbie Jackson, an associate professor of teacher education and director of the STEMM Education Center at Cleveland State University; Nigamanth Sridhar, dean of the College of Graduate Studies and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Cleveland State; and Timothy Sisson, K-12 STEM content manager for the Cleveland district. Dr. Jackson provided the answers to the questions, with input from Dr. Sridhar and Sisson:

171215 Debbie Jackson cropped 171215 Nigamanth Sridhar cropped 171215 Tim Sisson cropped
Debbie Jackson Nigamanth Sridhar Timothy Sisson

Q: Tell us about CSforCLE — what it is, and what it has accomplished.

A: The work began as a convergence of efforts that had been moving along in parallel. The first effort is a NSF-funded project directed by Dr. Sridhar and Dr. Jackson at Cleveland State University (CSU). The project, funded by the NSF’s Computing Education for the 21st Century Program, began in 2013 with the goal of providing professional development and training to teachers who could then instruct students in an Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles course.

In the past four years, that project has trained nearly 70 teachers across Ohio, including several from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD).

The second effort: In spring 2014, CMSD was redesigning John Marshall High School. (During the past few years, CMSD has been rejuvenating and redesigning many district high schools. The goal is to create high-performing, comprehensive schools that prepare students for college and careers.)

John Marshall High School has been redesigned to comprise three schools — a School of Engineering, a School of Civic and Business Leadership and a School of Information Technology (JMIT). Dr. Sridhar participated in the JMIT design process along with the district, the Cleveland Foundation and many industry and community partners.

Shortly thereafter, JMIT hired its new principal, Chelsey Cook, who is a senior leader on the CSforCLE project. Under her leadership, and with design input from Dr. Sridhar and others, the school opened in fall 2015 as the first in Ohio to offer a four-year curriculum pathway with a focus on computer science. The school has served as a credible testing ground to launch CS initiatives that can be replicated across the district and nationwide.

Since JMIT’s launch, the number of other CMSD schools offering CS courses has grown from three in 2015-16 to eight in 2017-18, with an anticipated twofold increase for 2018-19. This does not account for the schools that are also offering integrated CS curriculum, including Bootstrap: Algebra at the high school level and K-8 options.

The third strand of work that supports CSforCLE is the NEOSTEM (Northeast Ohio STEM) Ecosystem. This group, which works to increase access to, and excitement for, computer science, especially among underserved populations, is a member of the nationwide STEM Ecosystems network. The NEOSTEM Ecosystem brings together members of organizations that are involved in computer science education, including non-formal opportunities for students in the region.

In the past year or so, the ecosystem has convened more than 40 organizations, including informal clubs, curriculum providers, industry groups, public libraries, community colleges, universities, school counselors, parent groups, etc. Together, they have created an environment that fosters excitement about computer science in schools and provides a significant synergistic platform for our CSforAll program.

In particular, the informal CS education opportunities play an important support role for the formal, in-class CSforAll program. They engage students who are encountering computer science for the first time by way of introductory programs, and they provide continuity opportunities for students who want to pursue more CS learning beyond the classroom experience. These engagement and continuity opportunities are essential to support the capacity that is built in the classroom.

NEOSTEM also has recently partnered with Girls Who Code to support opportunities for middle school and high school girls across the region to engage in CS. Girls Who Code Clubs are free, after-school programs for 6th- through 12th-grade girls where they learn to use computer science to impact their community within a sisterhood of supportive peers and role models.

In addition, the NEOSTEM Ecosystem, with leadership and support from Grady Burrows, director of Health IT Talent at BioEnterprise in Cleveland, is leading a CS Community of Practice (CSCoP). The community engages bimonthly, promoting teacher growth through professional development, speakers and sharing of classroom experiences. We hope to expand the CSCoP so teachers from across the region, both new and old to CS, can come together to hone their practice and bring innovative experiences to their students.

Q: How will the $1 million grant you recently received from the NSF help you to expand your work?

A: The central goal of CSforCLE is to create a knowledge base, focused on equity and access for all students, that will guide implementation of the CSforAll initiative in schools and districts across the country.

CMSD, with assistance and direction from CSU, is implementing a CSforAll initiative starting in the 2017-18 academic year.

CSU and CMSD intend to create a model that not only includes, but is also targeted toward, underrepresented minorities in CS — specifically, students from the African American, Hispanic and low socioeconomic status populations.

The project includes CSU, CMSD, the Cleveland Foundation and the NEOSTEM Ecosystem. Through this funded project, CSforCLE will grow and provide significant insights into scaling CS in a large urban school district.

What is novel to this effort is that the researcher-practitioner partnership (RPP) will create a knowledge base that documents the impact that taking a CS course has on students across a broad range of factors, including achievement in areas such as mathematics and English Language Arts.

Q: Why have you focused on CS? Do you think it eventually will become an academic requirement, at least in high school?

A: Computer science is an essential knowledge base for all STEM careers now and in the future. We hope that CS will become an academic requirement; at the moment, computer programming can count as one of the mathematics credits that students need for high school graduation in Ohio.

Q: Tell us about other partnerships you have in CSforCLE.

A: In addition to CSU, CMSD and the NEOSTEM Ecosystem, our partners include the Cleveland Foundation, which provides support for professional development for K-12 teachers involved in computer science; TIES (Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM), based in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, which provides logistical support as well as connections to the nationwide STEM community; and TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), which is supported by Microsoft Philanthropies and provides CS professionals who work alongside computer science teachers in the classroom.

In addition, our project is a member of the CSforAll Consortium, a national organization that serves as a convener helping with synergizing the CSforAll movement nationwide. More specifically, we are also a member of the RPPforCS group — a network of researcher-practitioner partnerships across the country who all have similar goals to our project.

Q: Concerning the NSF grant, what advice would you give other schools or organizations when applying for such funding?

A: When applying for an NSF grant, our advice is: Never give up. Most funded NSF grants that we have been a part of were submitted more than once. An idea based on sound and relevant research can and will get funded, but partners need to be persistent.

Q: Did anyone in your CSforCLE group attend the recent CSforAll Summit 2017 at Washington University in St. Louis? What were the main takeaways from that meeting?

A: CSU/CMSD team participated in the summer summit, where we created a SCRIPT (School CSforAll Resource and Implementation Planning Tool) for CSforCLE that we are using in planning and extending the work.

We also made commitments to help bring rigorous CS courses to every CMSD high school through CSforAll.

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